Culturally Competent Pharmacies May Be the Answer to Pandemic Response in St. Louis

By Marcus HowardJan. 27, 2021

Recent studies have illuminated vital health disparities that exist within minority populations around the U.S. This issue is also true for the city of St. Louis, MO. St. Louis's minority communities have been disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, high blood pressure, mental health challenges, and other communicable diseases. These issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and, again, minority communities in St. Louis have been disproportionately affected and devastated. More specifically, in St. Louis County, African Americans make up 25% of the population and account for 36% of deaths. In St. Louis City, African Americans comprise 47% of the population and account for 63% of deaths.

Recent efforts to alleviate health disparities in low-income communities of color around the U.S. have suggested that the key to improving health outcomes for minority populations is to provide culturally competent healthcare experiences. Though cultural competence can be defined in many ways, quite simply, it is the ability to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs, and behaviors and to tailor that care to patients’ social, cultural, and linguistic needs. Moreover, healthcare providers can provide culturally competent healthcare experiences by having a staff that is representative of the community demographics, speaks the same language, is knowledgeable about the culture, and designs a space that is consistent with the culture of the community they serve (signage, literature, communication, music, etc). 

Pharmacies providing culturally competent healthcare experiences happen to be one of the vital solutions to alleviating health disparities in minority communities around the U.S. Premier Pharmacy and Wellness Center in Charlotte, NC, is a black-owned pharmacy that ensures that their patients feel connected to their culture in the store through music, playing Beyonce, Kirk Franklin, and Whitney Houston. According to various studies, medical providers such as pharmacists, who provide their patients with culturally competent care, see improved patient outcomes because of trust and a deep and nuanced understanding of the medical conditions that may be more prevalent in specific populations. 

In the spring of 2022, a local team of residents will come together to launch GreaterHealth Pharmacy and Wellness, a Black-owned pharmacy whose mission is to provide high-quality, culturally competent healthcare experiences to all residents in St. Louis, especially the African American residents who disproportionately suffer from health disparities.  

GreaterHealth will focus on providing comprehensive pharmaceutical care to the residents within its trade area through the provision of quality drug products, healthcare supplies and equipment, and pharmacists to counsel patients, monitor drug therapy, and assist healthcare professionals in the area to maximize the quality of these patients' healthcare. This is a critical development as African American communities are in need of a healthcare provider that delivers care but understands the culture. GreaterHealth has the potential to become a trusted source of healthcare and a vaccine distribution site where community members can get adequate care during and after the pandemic. Consistent with research regarding culturally competent care, GreaterHealth has the potential to transform and rapidly accelerate the health outcomes of all residents in St. Louis, especially those in need. Furthermore, as St. Louis transitions into recovery from the pandemic, GreaterHealth may be a vital source of trust that will be able to reach its minority populations. 


 1. Halbur, K. V., Halbur, D. A., & Halbur, D. (2008). Essentials of cultural competence in pharmacy practice. Washington, DC: American Pharmacists Association.

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Marcus Howard, Ph.D.

Director of Strategic Innovations, Teach For America
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After moving away to earn a Ph.D. and teach, Dr. Howard, who grew up on St. Louis' north side, always knew he wanted to return home. But he wanted a comeback with purpose. Now, Howard has it: launching a Black-owned pharmacy and wellness center to provide culturally competent health care, scheduled to open fall 2021/spring 2022. African-Americans here are disproportionately affected by conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and infectious diseases like COVID-19. Black-owned pharmacies provide services like genetic testing, medication education, and weight loss programs to improve health outcomes. "It's specific things that focus on what communities of color are experiencing," Howard says. "[At a chain pharmacy], you walk up, you get your medicine, and you walk away. For communities of color, that's not enough".